Rosie and I are walking to school this morning. She’s chatting away, her words getting eaten up by the traffic roaring beside us. The wind splays her hair in all directions and her eyelashes are like the sun’s rays, beating warmly against her cheeks.
“Do you know?” I say to her. “You’re the most beautiful girl I know.” She looks down with an uncertain smile.
“And you know what else?” She looks at me, eyes round. “You’re the cleverest little girl I know, too.”
She grins, and walks proudly. “Smarter than Leah?” she asks.
“Well, I don’t know Leah,” I say. “But I do know you. And you are clever.”
This is me resisting my usual Tiger mother self (for make no mistake, I am one of those mothers), and deciding that what Rosie needs is a lot of positive reinforcement. I had a meeting with her teacher at school last week, and although she said that Rosie is doing very well, she also said she suffers from low self-esteem and poor self-confidence.
This is not surprising to me. Rosie is 4.5 years old. She can read and do basic mathematics. Yes, I encouraged her to do these things from a very young age. Yes, I was a bit hard on her from time to time. But really, I did these things out of curiosity more than anything else. I experimented on her – I saw that she picked up her phonics quickly, so I tried her on reading simple words. That was when she was three – and she did it. Naturally, I tried some more.
But much as she excelled at these things, she would not demonstrate her knowledge or ability to anyone. Take headstands. She can do them, wherever, whenever, but she won’t show her friends how to do them. She won’t show them she can do it. She doesn’t believe she can do it.
I put this down to the Tiger mother in me. My parents were of a generation that didn’t believe in praising children too much. I think they were right, to some extent, but I also think that that strategy only works on certain types of children. I realise that Rosie is not one of those types of children. She needs praise – she thrives on it. Most kids do. And given how sad she is right now – how much she misses her dad – praise is the easiest thing I can give her that seems to make a difference to how she sees herself.
I don’t over-do it. If I did that, she would stop believing me. But if she does something good – like folding her clothes by herself – then I give her a star. If she dresses herself without going nuclear, she gets a star. If she reads really well, she gets a star. You get the picture.
We had a few terrible days after my last post, where she set off little mushroom clouds of fury that nearly annihilated me. I have two matching bite marks on my thighs – both executed through my jeans by those sharp little milk teeth. I had a meeting with the school nurse who has referred Rosie to the local children’s mental health service (although how long it will take for her to get an appointment is anyone’s guess – the government has cut these services drastically, so they are floundering like everything else in the UK).
The main thing I did was try to disengage immediately whenever Rosie threatened to kick off. I told her a story at night, about a mummy and little girl who shouted at each other very loudly because they were hurting inside, and who, through the good offices of the moon fairy, managed to overcome their anger and find a way to deal with the little things that bothered them, with patience. I also swapped her clothes out of the wall cupboards which she couldn’t reach, to the lower cupboards that she can reach. This gives her the power to choose her own clothes and feel like she has some control over her things. It’s made a huge difference.
In the end, I relented on the underpants and reverted to the pouffy ones again. That’s just a battle that I’ll have to wage later. One day she’ll grow out of them and the whole thing will start again, but I’ll face that inevitability when it comes. For now, I’m going to try to enjoy the little bit of peace that seems to have crept back into our lives. Tonight, Rosie became my refuge again. Tomorrow, who knows?